Zombis without the “E”
The Zombi Without the “E”
Unless you’re undead yourself, you’ve heard of the TV series The Walking Dead.
Most of us have seen Scooby-Doo’s shambling zombies. We know there are brain-eating zombies, flesh-eating zombies, and then there’s the overly hyperactive zombies that bite, infect, and move quickly to the next victim to infect, then the next, going on and on with a ceaseless end of need to infect.
What about the voodoo zombi? The zombi spelled with no “e”.
It’s not surprising if you know little to nothing about the zombi’s from Haiti.
Let me give you the jaw dropping truth though. The Haitian zombi’s are the original zombies! Maybe they’re not the flesh eaters or brain eaters or any really any kind of eaters we’ve to come to recognize – but they are the staggering, brainless, moaning wonders we have come to love.
Let us take a look how Haiti got to become the origin of the Zombi.
Haiti is located in the Caribbean Sea. It is on a Western section of the Hispaniola Island, the Eastern section is called the Dominican Republic. Like any culture, Haiti has unique points that set it apart.
One extremely unique point is Haiti was the first nation to be established after a successfully led slave revolt. How did that happen?
Let’s start out with the part where the native people are enslaved by the imperial forces.
The Taino Arawak were originally the native people of the Hispaniola Island and were eventually oppressed and enslaved by the Spaniards. Christopher Columbus, the explorer for the Spanish, came to the island and named it Insula Hispana which meant “the Spanish island”. The island was also known as Santo Domingo.
In the 1630s, the Spaniards neglected the western side of the island where French pirates started to dominate the area. The Spaniards ceded this western region to the French in 1697. By this time, slavery had taken definite root and the business of slavery had become a lucrative business. After all, the exported crops of tobacco, sugar, and coffee were in great demand.
The life expectancy of a slave was short. They were worked in the fields for achingly long periods of time and the average slave’s life was six to seven years. They died from a combination of reasons: infections caused from torture, starvation, exposure, and exhaustion. Slaves caught eating sugar cane had tin muzzles soldered onto their faces and were made to work in the field. The torture of slaves was horrific and included being whipped, burned alive, buried alive, having lips sewn together, black powder jammed into anus and ignited which was known as “busting a black ass”, and limbs amputated.
The slave owners needed more slaves to replace the significant number who died. Pregnant women typically lost their child in birth, and the recently newborn died often died of starvation. The slave owners could give nourishment to a pregnant women but it was cheaper to import slaves from African. In 1681, there were 2,000 African slaves on the island of Hispaniola, but by 1789, there were over a million.
The male slave owners had sex with their women slaves. The children from these women were a mixed race and were often freed by the masters. These class of people became a middle class in Haitian culture and were called gens de coleur. This segment eventually grew in power.
The French Revolution happened in 1789 and the principles of rights of man and free people of color spread and inspired people to freedom.
The gens de coleur organized a slave revolt in this time period and by 1801, the revolts were successful. Napoleon, the French dictator, re-sent ships to Haiti in 1802 to re-institute slavery but his forces were thwarted. Napoleon’s forces either died of disease or were killed by the rebels. In the end, the French loss 50,000 troops. Napoleon gave up in 1804, and the slave revolt had cost him dearly. His country was in severe economical stress and he sold the Louisiana territory to the United States.
In current day Haiti, there’s about eighty to ninety percent of people who practice or believe in the vodou religion. Haitian practitioners prefer the spelling of vodou versus voodoo because they distinguish themselves from voodoo practitioners in Louisiana.
Vodou originates from Africa and this religion has no scripture or world authority. Today, Vodou embraces a community-centered life and supports individual experience, empowerment and spirituality. Vodou practitioners believe there is a visible world and an invisible one that are intertwined. Death is a transition to the invisible world, so our predecessors are still with us in spirit. They watch over and inspire us.
Vodou has gotten a bad rap over the years as it has been portrayed in movies and books as a dark magic. Vodou however isn’t a cult, black magic, or devil worship. People who practice vodou would look at you with wide frightened eyes, if you asked them if they were sorcerers, witchdoctors, or occultists. Most of them have never seen a voodoo doll!
Yet, why do books and movies portray vodou as a dark art or a cult in liege with demons? They just get it wrong. Vodou indeed does have a history tied to Haitian slavery and it is here where the concept of zombi was borne.
The slave’s life in Haiti, as noted above, was absolutely horrid and cruel. One true account states a slave owner nailed his slave to the wall by his ear, and later cut the ear off, cooked it and fed it to the slave. The atrocious stories go on but the fact is that it made plain sense that kiling yourself would be a viable option given such situations. Not so quick with suicide though. May I introduce you to the Bokor, a vodou sorcerer. The Bokor was a witch doctor who used black magic and brought the dead back to life.
The slaves were immersed in their voodoo religion and were terrified of its powers. They feared that once they committed suicide that a witchdoctor sorcerer, or someone known as bokor and was employed by the slave master, would re-raise that person back to life.
The newly risen would be a zombi, the original Haitian spelling of the world. The zombi would have no thought, save he knew his mission in life was to obey his master.
The slave zombi would have a drudgery existence save working the fields; yet, he would never disobey or fall out of line.
In the end, this belief kept the masses of slaves in check, prevented them from killing themselves, and provided the desired profit to the slave owners.
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The Zombie Squad
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